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Monday, March 13, 2017

Oh, so much noodling...

I don't know what I did during Advisement; the time whipped by, but I don't seem to have actually accomplished anything at all. Ditto my time back here in the office after Advisement. At least I saw two students from Nature in Lit, both of whom wanted help doing better with their reading notes--and one of them wanted to know what she can do to do better overall. I loved talking with them; that was good.

Also good--if somewhat sad--was talking to another student in Nature in Lit. She probably won't make it through the semester: she missed the first three classes, and has barely been present since. She's turning in work, but clearly something is up. I talked with her for quite some time after class. She didn't reveal to me the details of the circumstance she's dealing with, but she did say it's unlikely to resolve any time soon. I asked her if she thought it might be helpful to see an educational counselor, or a psychological counselor; she asked if she could see someone who did both. I told her I'd send her the information about those services on campus (which I did)--and I also recommended that she come to see me for mentoring. I encouraged her to do that even if she decides to withdraw from my class (which she should, I think, no matter how good her work might be). She seemed very grateful for the acknowledgement that she's struggling, and for my calm offer of help instead of stern warnings.

I like it when I can get a smile out of students who are usually stone-faced in class (and yes, sometimes stoned-faced). And I like it when students realize they can come to me for help without fear.

Class was a bit of a revelation, too. I talked with them briefly about what was going on, where things were breaking down for them in the readings (as clearly they're missing really big, important points). Several of the brighter students, including Baseball Cap, said that they can see individual details but they can't seem to connect them into a deeper understanding of the work. So, I ditched group work and simply asked them to toss out ideas, questions, observations, whatever they have, and I wrote stuff on the board. (I'm not as good at this as my colleague Mary: either she's better at turning a sentence into a telegraphic few words than I am or she writes much smaller than I do, but she gets more on the board than I seem to be able to manage.) Then we talked about what was on the board. I also had them write a little about themselves, their neighborhoods/towns, whether they thought they lived in areas that encourage a spirit of creativity and hope, as one of today's readings suggested should be the case with urban (or suburban) environments. Most of them said yes--but largely because they feel comfortable and safe in those environments, not because those environments challenge them in any way. The second of the readings for today was about an environment that very specifically challenges our comfort and safety, as well as our sense of belonging to a nearby community; we didn't have much time to talk about it today, but--assuming we have class on Wednesday--I'm going to start with that.

At the end of class, I asked them if that process--working out their ideas through me--was more beneficial than what we'd been doing and I got a resounding "yes!" Part of that, of course, is that six of the students do all the responding and the others can coast on the slip-stream of the students who are really moving. Part of it is that they don't have to feel afraid of being "wrong," because I'm there to steer them right if they're getting off track. I don't know how I'm going to get them to pay attention to details, but I think I need to do more work on that at the very start of the semester for all my classes. Words have actual meanings. We need to understand the actual words as they are put together in sentences--and not just take a few words and then go bounding off on our own trails that lead us further and further from what the author was saying.

I am worried about this as a trend among my students. I am very worried that they can't seem to see the proverbial forest--or that they can only see the forest and can't figure out how the individual trees create the forest. I didn't give this lot my watch analogy, my long thing about how to engage in literary analysis--and perhaps I should have. (Perhaps I should give it to students after I have trimmed it down significantly, so it's less dense and easier to approach.)

Maybe I need to work on a reading--any reading--one sentence at a time with them. As soon as we hit a sentence that they can't make sense of (or can't clearly prove they make sense of), we stop and work it through one word at a time. They're often such literal thinkers on one level and so wildly inventive without any basis in the actual words of the text on other levels, it's hard to know how to approach them to get them where I know they need to go.

My brain hurts just trying to explain it, never mind actually coming up with a way to deal with it. I'm reworking my pedagogy on the fly here: the new system with Nature in Lit feels way to "chalk and talk" to me, but if it helps them get something out of the readings, then it's worth it. The point is to get them to understand what they need to understand. That's it, whole story.

And the whole story for me now is that I'm exhausted. The clock change always kicks a hole in my sleep, and this time was no exception. I'm overjoyed that we will have a snow day tomorrow--the college president has already let us know campus will be closed--and I'm hoping I don't have to teach on Wednesday, either, though I won't mind to much if I do. The main thing is to actually get things marked tomorrow: to really dig down and work my ass off to get on top of the stacks of shit. I don't want to spend spring break like I spent the Presidents' Week break, trying to get on top of student assignments. I also have to do little things like produce my own year-end evaluation (in addition to mentoring six people through theirs), conduct some observations of adjuncts, do my taxes....

Oh, it's just endless fun. No wonder I find myself noodling.

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